Divine Transparency

In the previous post we discussed the safety of the divine community. In this post,  I would like to look a little deeper into one dimension of a safe community. Meaningful relationships are always marked by transparency, openness and vulnerability. Again, if the Triune God is the blueprint for all relationships we might expect to find some of these dynamics within that community. Sure enough, we do. I want to briefly explore three texts that touch on these overlapping themes.

  • “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

Astonishing, this passage gives us a glimpse into the Triune relationship. The Spirit searches, explores and inquires into the thoughts of the Father. He journeys the heights and depths of God himself. The language is relational. The Father is welcoming, open and transparent. The Spirit responds to the openness of the Father with investigative energy. The Spirit is privy to the thoughts of God…he knows them all.

  • “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

The Father has an intimate knowledge of the Spirit’s mind. Unintelligible groanings to us are clear to the Father because he knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The unity of will and purpose between the Father and Spirit is foundational to this mutual understanding. The text is relational once again. This divine knowing is something that seems to require openness on the part of the Father and Spirit. Though completely equal in omniscience…there appears to be some mechanism of divine sharing that facilitates this knowledge.

  • “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

Exclusive knowledge of the Father belongs to the Son. Exclusive knowledge of the Son belongs to the Father. This text brilliantly displays the intimacy of the Godhead. God alone knows God. The Father gives the Son total access and vice versa. Revelation…a gracious introduction of the Father through the Son by the Spirit…is the only way one comes to know God.

All three of these texts hint at openness, transparency and vulnerability in Trinitarian interaction. Father, Son and Holy Spirit willingly allow the other respective persons into the fulness of themselves. They truly see one another and are seen by one another.

Another way of getting at this mystery is the doctrine of perichoresis, which has been defined as “co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration.” Alister McGrath writes that it “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.”

This doctrine is rooted in Scripture that uses the language of “in” when discussing how the Father, Son and Spirit are connected. For example, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11). This is intimacy, openness and vulnerability at its very best.

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The Nicene Creed

The Nicene creed was written around A.D. 325. It was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan presbyter in Alexandria, had declared that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not equal with the Father. He made the statement “there was when he was not.” This belief made Jesus less than the Father, which posed challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of salvation. The Nicene creed was a response to this challenge and a correction to his error.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene creed builds on and elaborates the Apostle’s Creed. Paramount in this creed is the explanation of the person of Christ and his relation to the father. The creed also elaborates on the saving work of the Son, the person and role of the Spirit, and things pertaining to the church. I will highlight a few of these key areas.

  • The Son of God is unique in his dependence on the Father– He is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This creedal statement has created a lot of discussion and debate throughout church history. The doctrine here described has been called “eternal generation.” A.A. Hodge attempts to put this mystery into words. Eternal generation is “an eternal personal act of the Father wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.”
  • The Son of God is unique in his equality with the Father– The creed clarifies and balances the previous statement when it says that the Son was “begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” The doctrine of “eternal generation” does not call into question the absolute equality of the Father and Son. They share the identical nature and essence. The Son knows no beginning, he has always been. He has always shared everything with the Father.
  • The Son of God is unique in his role as Creator– The creed specifies the Son’s key role in creation: “Through him all things were made.” This is a new and important addition to the Apostle’s creed that further establishes the deity of the Son.
  • The Son of God in his unique role as Redeemer– The creed frames the saving work of Christ in a fresh way. “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” The humility of the incarnation and the empowering of the Holy Spirit are center stage in this description of Christ’s mighty work.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his role as Life-Giver– The creed identifies the Spirit as the “Lord,” equal to the Father and Son. As the Lord, he is the “giver of life.” It is the Spirit’s vocation to breathe life and sustain it. We see this in both creation and new creation.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his relationship to the Father and Son– The Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is another phrase that has produced a lot of discussion, debate and significant conflict. The doctrine here has been called the “procession of the Holy Spirit.” A.A. Hodge explains the teaching. Procession refers to “the relation which the third person sustains to the first and second, wherein by an eternal and necessary, i.e., not voluntary, act of the Father and the Son, their whole identical divine essence, without alienation, division, or change, is communicated to the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Holy Spirit is a proper object of our worship– The creed recognizes that worship necessarily follows the affirmation of deity. The Spirit is worthy of worship alongside the Father and Son.“With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”
  • The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets– The creed affirms the Spirit’s role in the speech of the prophets and by extension the inspiration of Scripture. “He has spoken through the Prophets.”
  • The link between baptism and forgiveness– This creed, unlike any previous, addresses baptism. It also draws a link between forgiveness and baptism. “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Indwelling Christ

Most discussions on indwelling appropriately focus on the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it is important to see a number of texts that connect indwelling to Christ. In fact, the New Testament is quite clear that the indwelling Spirit is the mediator of Christ’s presence with his people. Jesus indwells us by means of the Spirit.

Take for example Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19. He asks God the Father that the church would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The link is clear. Now take a look at these texts that speak of Christ indwelling his people.

  • “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
  • “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10).
  • “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
  • “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
  • “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24).
  • “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
  • “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

The same principle can be seen in connection to God the Father. Take a look at 1 John 4:13-16.

“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

God the Father abides in his people through his Spirit. Indwelling is a Trinitarian dynamic, something we briefly touched on in one of the first posts in this series. The text that best captures this comes from John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” By the Spirit the Father and Son reside within those who believe.

Theological Implications of the Humility of God

I have spent the last month discussing the topic of God’s humility. I have argued that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are equally and magnificently humble. Through viewing a variety of texts, exploring trinitarian doctrine, and drawing from a number of resources I have worked to show that humility is intrinsic to the Father as well as Son and Spirit.

In this post I want to spend a few moments teasing out the implications of a God who is humble. What does it matter that God is humble? How does it change how we think, live, and operate?

  • Humility is a Trinitarian attribute and dynamic. This means that humility occurs in community as it is fundamentally about engaging others. Humility does not occur in a vacuum, it is birthed in interaction with other individuals.
  • Humility as a Trinitarian reality implies that this attribute can be explored from two angles. First, we can look at the oneness of God and search out divine humility. Second, we can look at the diversity in God as we think about humility. Each of the Triune persons is characterized by humility and riches await us if we would search this out.
  • If God is humble then it follows that all he does will be informed by and marked with his humility. In other words, we will be able to discern humility in creation, revelation, historical engagement with Israel and the nations, the incarnation, cross, ascension, sending of the Spirit, birthing of the church, second coming, and establishment of the new earth. We will hear humility in his words where we have not heard it before. We will see it in his activity where we have not recognized it before.
  • The coming rule and reign of God will be a humble theocracy. Kings are not often characterized by lowliness and passion for service to others. The Triune God is quite the opposite. Yahweh is a humble sovereign, a sacrificing deity, an outward looking God. What a refreshing reality awaits those who will live under his kingship. Greg Haslam is right, “At the root of all present-day oppressive dictatorships, divided or monochrome societies, devaluation of certain individuals and the inability to cultivate loving community, is a denial of the Trinity.”
  • Visions of a humble God invoke repentance and worship. Beholding a God who gets on his knees to wash his creature’s feet must move us. Sacrifice and service from the Creator has a way of shattering hardness in our hearts and stirring us to song. The more we view God’s humility the more we will be moved.
  • Human beings are made in the image of a humble God. It follows that humility is a mark of genuine humanity. We are called to humility because we are called to reflect God. The saving humility of God manifest in Christ and the Spirit is the means to making this a reality.

The Father’s Humility in the Ascension

Humility is magnetic. We are all drawn to people who consistently honor others and draw little attention to self. This magnetism increases with power. In other words, people in positions of authority who engage with humility are especially drawing. Why? Because they have influence and an ability to use their authority in other ways. I experience this on a personal level every day. I have some of the most humble leaders imaginable in my place of work. Their use of authority is a breath of fresh air.

Consider the difference between humble and proud people in these positions: landlord, boss, CEO, judge, mayor, governor, president. Humility is all the more compelling when experienced in those who have greatest influence. Now consider this, the most powerful and influential being in the universe is also the most humble. Humility marks everything he does.

We have observed the way the Father honors the Son in eternity past, in creation, in the incarnation, and at the cross. In this post we take it a step further to the ascension. In this event, will see compelling humility yet again.

The Father’s Humility in the Ascension

The Father’s pleasure in the Son marks the beginning and end of his earthly ministry. At his baptism the Father’s audible voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). When he has accomplished his saving task the Father is greatly pleased. 

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

“Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33).

In these texts the language of exaltation is taken up to describe what happens in the ascension and the seating of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. The physical rising into heaven is a tangible expression of the Father exalting the Son. He is literally and figuratively lifted up. It is the Father’s passion that “all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (Jn 5:22).

The Father’s Humility in Sending the Son and Spirit

A humble God sounds strange to many ears. This evening I was reading Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Copan said this about the novelty of a humble God.

“Many Christians have the false impression that something resembling divine humility appears occasionally in the Bible–for example, in the incarnation of Christ–but that humility isn’t an enduring divine quality. Upon closer inspection, God–yes even in the Old Testament–is characteristically humble. The ‘high and exalted one’ dwells with the contrite and lowly of spirit’ (Is 57:15). Psalm 113:5-6 affirms a God who stoops to look upon us. In God’s interaction with Israel, we see an other-centered, patient endurance despite Israel’s rebellion, grumbling, and idolatry. The New Testament expands on this theme of divine humility; it does not invent it.”

Copan is spot on. God is characteristically humble in both testaments for his nature is consistent in all his activity. The New Testament is indeed an expansion rather than a starting point for understanding the humility of God. Stooping low is no foreign posture for the biblical deity.

In the last few posts we have established the equality of the three divine persons along with the economic ordering of the divine life. We have seen the humility of God in his eternal relations with Son and Spirit along with his lowliness in sharing the glory of world making. We turn now to his humility in sending both Son and Spirit in the work of salvation.

The Father’s Humility in Sending the Son and Spirit

Humility at heart is outward looking. It looks beyond self to another. It sacrifices for the sake of neighbor. It is gracious, self-forgetting, and loving. This is the heart of the Father in the plan of redemption. It is also the Father’s posture toward Son and Spirit in the execution of his saving vision.

Pericherosis is a rich theological concept that will aid in understanding the humility of God’s sending activity. It is best defined as mutual indwelling (Jn 14:11). Rich Vincent gives a helpful description.

“Within the divine life there abides an eternal relationship of self-giving, mutual, and shared love. Father, Son, and Spirit deeply and intimately know one another. There is no fear, shame, or insecurity in their knowledge of one another. Father and Son dwell in a face-to-face relationship with the Spirit as the bond of love that unites them. This relationship is so profoundly complete and pure that there is no other way to describe it than that they are in one another [perichoresis]. This free, full, and overflowing love is the central quality of the home-life of God.”

Jurgen Schulz further describes the fulness of life in this intimate community.

“The Triune God lives in an incomparable celebration of eternal joy. The Father, Son and Spirit have a rich and overflowing life with or without us… The Father lives for the Son and the Son lives for the Father, and they share all things together in the Spirit. Not self centered, but other centered. Totally other centered—because that is the essential meaning of ‘God is love.’ And this is what ‘Trinity’ is all about.”

God’s communal life sets the context for his creative and redemptive activity. Son and Spirit are sent forth out of this place of interdependence and loyal love. We discern humility from two different angles when considering this framework.

First, the Son and Spirit are sent into a war zone. Their coming is a tremendous act of humility. Suffering for both was inevitable. Stepping back we must realize that this is God sending and God coming. God sends God. The sending of Son and Spirit is God humbly giving himself! Perichoresis means that God is in the Son and Spirit as they are sent. We must know that it was costly to the Father to send. Pain and sacrifice is shared by the Triune community in the work of redemption.

Second, note the humility of the Father in sharing the awesome task of redemption. In creation, the Father shared the honor of shaping the world. In salvation, the Father humbly invites Son and Spirit to play key roles in his greatest work yet. The honor due God the Savior is an honor for Father, Son, and Spirit. It is humility that gladly shares this glory.

The Father’s Humility In Eternity Past

In the previous post we began a series on the humility of God the Father. We spent time establishing that Father, Son, and Spirit are perfectly equal in essence and character. Humility therefore marks the Father as much as it does the Son and Spirit. We turn our attention in this post to the Triune relationship before the world was created.

The Father’s Humility before Creation

The interaction of the Trinity pre-exists creation and has always been characterized by humility. John gives us a glimpse of this…”And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). This is a unique window into Trinitarian interaction.

The sharing of glory and honor predates the world. The Father has always been passionate about exalting his Son. The way the Father interacts with the Son in his incarnate state is reflective of how he has always treated him. In theological terms the economic Trinity cannot be separated from the immanent Trinity.

When Scripture says that God is jealous for his glory we must remember that we are talking about a Triune God (Is 48:9-11). Diving glory happens in community. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally passionate about extolling one another. God is indeed passionate for his glory. The Father is adamant that the Son be lifted high. The Son is deeply concerned that the Father be honored. The Spirit refuses to shine the light on himself, he wants Christ to be seen.

When viewed through this lens God’s glory becomes a brilliant display of humility. Glory happens precisely when one selflessly lifts another. In the divine economy I would go as far as saying that God’s glory is his humility. Tim Keller helps further capture this outward looking posture of the Trinity.

“Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.”